Sunday, March 6, 2016

SHIKI: Affordable Fantastic Omakase and Washoku in Beverly Hills?!?

In the zip code synonymous with luxury, is not the place where you would most expect to find affordable and authentic ethnic cuisine.  Yet there it is, against the odds and expectation: SHIKI, helmed by talent from the kitchens of two of the sushi spots most beloved by those in-the-know in the city from Asanebo to Sushi Gen.

I have a fateful visit to the dentist in the area, and a combination of slowly-fading anesthetic and increasing hunger pangs to thank for motivating me to wander into SHIKI.  Seeing their emphasis on "washoku" (literal translation: Japanese food, but apparently references traditional Japanese cooking emphasizing harmony, respect for nature and balance in satisfying all senses) featured on their menu was the first sign that this would be a 'hidden gem' - but I had to do a triple-take when I saw that the omakase was 'only' $60 - astounding for any higher end place in the city.  It would include two appetizers, and 10 pieces of sushi of the chef's selection.

There was a moment when I worried that it would be the standard, snooze-inducing roster of yellowtail, salmon, tuna, etc. etc.  But at $60, and with my love and trust of Asanebo and Sushi Gen, I decided it was worth a try.  And it turned out to be one of the best omakase I've had in the city, especially for this price.
Appetizer #1: Agedashi tofu with tempura - every bite here is prepared with care and pride, and it shows from the start.  This tofu is perfectly silky smooth inside, and nicely fried outside, placed into the most elegant dashi (broth) and topped with two pieces of (eggplant?) tempura and shaved radish and ginger.
Appetizer #2: Seared Snapper and Barracuda with vegetables this dish too, embodied the Japanese pursuit of perfection in every detail: sweet, flaky snapper and barracuda were enhanced with the smokiness (and structure) from torching, and again the refreshing, light yet complex dashi, and chilled bites of boiled eggplant, juicy earthy mushrooms, and bright leaves of perfectly cooked spinach.

Then the sushi started arriving piece by piece, traditional style where you can tell the chef respects every beautiful cut of fish he puts in front of you.  Sushi #1: Snapper
I was lucky enough to be placed in head chef Hiro's care, and I need not have worried about the faux omakase some other popular sushi spots serve, where the courses are the same every day, to every diner. These would be the freshest cuts of the day, and I like to think, served based on the chef's interactions with you (he watches your reaction to each piece for feedback before serving the next one).

Here's what I got for the rest of my omakase rolls:
Sushi #2: Squid with ginger and ponzu.- loved the fresh crunch and well balanced savory/sweet with a kick from the ginger and wasabi
Sushi #3: Tuna
Sushi #4: Seared toro (one of my favorite bites of the meal, decadently fatty with just the right amount of smokiness and the whole thing just melts in your mouth and makes your eyes roll back as a gentle moan inadvertently escapes from your lips)
Sushi #5: Barracuda, gorgeously seared and sliced / shaped in such a way that it was somehow evocative to me of an origami armadillo
Sushi #6: Baby toro with ponzu jelly, scallion and ginger
Sushi #7: Sea perch torched for smokiness in perfect balance with the natural sweetness of the fish (chef described it as 'like white fish toro')
Sushi #8: Ikura (salmon roe) marinated in sardine dashi and steamed.  This was another creative departure from the traditional roll - the process of marinating and steaming both pulled back the bright brininess typical of salmon roe, and intensified the umami by introducing another fish element.  Delicious.
Sushi #9: Octopus brushed with a sauce made from tea, lentils and gyoza sauce - this one really exhibited the creativity of the team - they do traditional sushi really well, but also will do some creative things I've never seen at any other sushi spot.  Chef Hiro explained that with this one, they do cut the octopus a little bit thicker, intentionally so that as you bite into the piece and the 'meat' breaks apart, it releases the aromas upwards into your palate.  A fantastic piece to experience!
Sushi #10: Uni (sea urchin) from Santa Barbara, of course one of my favorite bites as an uni addict!!!

I would have been satiated just with the $60 omakase, but I was enjoying the meal so much that I went for the add-on (which by the way was only $20 for an extra 5 pieces of sushi!!! Amazing deal!) 

Extra sushi #1: Amberjack
Extra sushi #2: Shima aji

Extra sushi #3: so, I loved the seared toro so much that I decided to ask for another piece within my extra 5, risking the chance at trying one more type of fish that I might have also fawned over - because I knew I would not be able to sleep that night without having another bite of that proof of divine design. 

Extra sushi #4: chopped toro with pickled radish  this was an interesting one without rice, and a lovely crunches of radish sending bursts of acidity to cut through the fatty fish.  Tasty.

Extra sushi #5: sea eel - from Japan; this is not the oversauced eel that you get at lesser sushi spots - but a fresh one, lightly sauced so that you can still taste the eel itself, and served hot.

And as a reward for my seemingly endless stomach, Chef Hiro also gave me a block of tamago (sweet egg omelette)

Although all that sushi was a lot of food already, I wasn't ready to leave without tasting a few bites from the washoku menu.

Not having known that the first appetizer of omakase was going to be tofu, I also ordered the Goma tofu: unfortunately turns out this was a bit too dense and 'sticky' for me.  I definitely preferred the agedashi tofu.
Momotaro with blue crab, in ume dashi dressing with ohba leaf (half portion $3 + $6 supplement for crab).  a beautiful perfect tomato - jewel toned inside - is served with fresh bits of blue crab in a vinegar-based dressing.  Momotaro is a Japanese tomato that is less acidic than the ones served in American salads, and only slightly sweet. This was a lovely way to feature the humble tomato, but I didn't find this dish as mindblowing as the next one (hmmm, no ingredient based bias there...;))

Then there was the show stopping Uni Shiokara sea urchin brined, then steamed and made into a paste and served with neat, crispy strips of toasted seaweed, and fresh wasabi.
You put a bit of the uni paste inside the seaweed, add a bit of wasabi, then down it goes like a Japanese taco.  The brining, steaming and pasting technique is interesting in that it made the texture more dense, and amplified the natural funk of fresh uni and made it more pungent (in the best way).

Serving it with toasted seaweed to add crisp crunch to counterbalance the richness of the uni paste was perfect.

Loved this dish!!!!

There were so many more washoku dishes I wanted to try, including a few A5 wagyu ones, but I'd tested the limits of my stomach capacity, and by this time I'd also pushed past their official closing time.  But I vowed to be back again soon!

(And for sake / Japanese whiskey fans: SHIKI also serves tasting flights of sake for $18, as well as award winning whiskeys like Yamazaki, and interesting ones like Akashi White Oak.)

All in all, omakase at SHIKI is a fantastic deal that I would definitely return for, even without a dentist visit as my excuse to be in the area - I would drive out for this, one that I now consider among my favorite sushi (and washoku) spots in the city.

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites  
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience -  6 stars
Service - 7 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$$ (3 bite mark)
Probability of return visit - 100% 



410 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Ph: 310.888.0036
Parking: lunch: free for first 2 hours; dinner: $5 flat fee for entry after 6pm, in public structure below Crate & Barrel (short walk)


Shiki Beverly Hills Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


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